Catch a snatch of a conversation between party leaders of any level in Barguna and you will learn that Awami League politics in the district is actually the show of two men: Dhirendra Debnath Shambhu and Jahangir Kabir.
One is the president of district AL and lawmaker of Barguna-1, and the other is the unit’s general secretary. With the absence of any visible opposition, the AL is sharply divided there, revolving around these two men.
“You can say it this way: there is nothing called Awami League here in Barguna. It is basically the personal league,” said Golam Sarwar Tuku, organising secretary of Barguna AL, to sum up politics of the district, which came into public discussion after the brutal murder of Rifat Sharif.
To ensure dominance, both the president and general secretary managed different posts for family members and relatives in the committees of AL and its front bodies.
Because of the rivalry between the two leaders, the ruling party had bitter experience in recent local government polls in the district, which has always been an AL stronghold.
The rise of so-called Bond gang, which was behind the killing of Rifat, is also an outcome of division in the AL politics, according to locals.
Lawmaker Shambhu’s son Suman Debnath started to back the gang after Jahangir’s son Jubayer Adnan became the president of Barguna Chhatra League and the MP lost control over student politics in the district, they said.
The local Jubo League, youth front of the ruling party, also went against the lawmaker.
In 2015 Barguna municipality polls, Shambhu took position against the party candidate Kamrul Ashan Moharaj, president of district Jubo League. In that election, MP-backed candidate Shahdat Hossain was elected mayor. Since then Kamrul has been vocal against the Shambhu family.
Sunam needed the Bond gang -- a network of a hundred members of Facebook messenger group “007” -- to build up a counterforce to both Chhatra League and Jubo League. He also formed district Tarun League and declared himself its chief, said local sources.
Shambhu and Jahangir have been holding the top positions of district AL for 30 years. Their rivalry has also been going on for decades but it got widely exposed ahead of the last national election.
At least 52 followers of the two -- who included local upazila and union-level AL leaders -- bought nomination papers for Barguna-1 constituency in show of strength.
In April last year, leaders of anti-Shambhu faction met party chief Sheikh Hasina and raised various allegations against the lawmaker. Later, Shambhu was declared persona non-grata in his own constituency.
Asked about the feud, Shambhu told The Daily Star that there is no division among them. “But we have differences.”
Sunam Debnath could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.
Jahangir admitted that there is rivalry among the two and said “He [Shambhu] doesn’t like what I do and he opposes whatever decision I take.”
CLUB OF FAMILY MEMBERS
Shambhu’s wife Madhobi Debnath is the president of district Baruguan Mohila Awami League and son Sunam the science and technology affairs secretary of the district AL.
The lawmaker has three brothers-in-law in different positions of the party. Of them, Nanda Talukder is the treasurer of district AL, Subol Talukder its office secretary and Siddiqur Rahman is the president of Barguan Sadar AL.
Jahangir’s wife Yeasmin Kabir is the vice-president of Mohila AL, younger son Jubayer president of district Chhatra League and elder son Rubayet Adnan deputy publicity affairs secretary of district AL.
Jahangir’s younger brother Humayun Kabir is a vice-president of Barguna AL, elder brother Alamgir Kabir president of municipality AL and nephew Imam Hassan joint secretary of district Jubo League.
Another nephew Titu is the president of Barguna town Chhatra League and cousin Golam Ahad is the secretary of Barguna town Jubo League.
But Jahangir says his family members and relatives are rarely found in party committees, and alleges that party posts are filled up by Shambhu’s relatives and family members.
Several district AL leaders accused Shambhu of bringing outsiders to party positions in exchange of money, citing the example of Mizanur Rahman.
Moon Group Chairman Mizanur Rahman, who is under trial for misappropriating Tk 220 crore of state-run Agrani Bank, was made a member of Barguna AL Advisory Committee, they added.
He is still holding the post though he got Jatiya Party nomination for Barguna-2 constituency in the last parliamentary election, held on December 30.
Shambhu, however, refuted all the allegations, saying a vested quarter is spreading propaganda against him to tarnish his image.
When a candidate loyal to Jahangir or not loyal to Shambhu get party nomination, the lawmaker opposes it. Jahangir does the same when it comes to Shambhu’s men, local politicians say.
In Amtoli upazila parishad election on March 31, AL candidate GM Delower Hossain lost to party rebel Golam Sarwar Forkan. Shambhu-backed candidate Shamsuddin was in second position.
In Taltoli upazila, AL nominee Rezviul Kabir won against MP-backed rebel candidate Moniruzzaman Mintu.
In Barguna Sadar, party candidate Waliullah Oli was defeated by MP-backed Monirul Islam.
Asked about it, Shambhu said he never opposed party nominated candidates. “Due to lack of popularity, party nominated candidates were defeated in some elections,” he added.
But Golam Sarwar Tuku, organising secretary of district AL, said, “Whenever people not loyal to the MP got the party nomination, he took position against them and fielded his followers as independent candidates.”
Shambhu has launched the “MP League” up to union level, he said and suggested the AL high-ups should restructure the party unit and elect new leadership.
[M Jahirul Islam Jewel, our Jhalakathi correspondent, contributed to this report]